In hindsight, January of 2002 marked the dawn of a new age of prosperity. That was when Amazon introduced free “Super Saver Shipping” on orders over $99.

Prosperity blossomed into unimaginable luxury when Amazon Prime came along in February of 2005, we got free two-way shipping for a $79 annual fee on eligible items. Today, 100 million items are eligible for free two-day shipping on Amazon. Pretty much every eCommerce competitor has to play the free two-way shipping game to compete.

My wife routinely orders multiple sizes and/or colors of an outfit online, keeping one and returning two or three. Put another way, she summons garments made on the other side of the planet which arrive at our home within days. Then, she sends most of them back from whence they came and pays nothing. The global supply chain is her fitting room. Queen Victoria couldn’t have imagined such luxury at the height of the British Empire.

The subtle lesson for product people: Free two-way shipping is a necessary evil for eCommerce players not because it reduces the cost of buying, but because it reduces the cost of trying the product. All those apparel brands popping up in your Instagram feed want you to try their stuff. Risk-free return policies make that a snap.

Is it that easy for your customers to discover your product’s best features?

Usability ≠ Tryability

When the team develops an awesome new feature, the default inclination for your executive team is likely to be to charge more for it. Put it behind a paywall, make it a premium add-on, update the rate card, and let’s go move some units!

As you add features to your product over time, it inevitably increases in complexity. As a result, more of the newest, coolest features risk getting lost within the product. The product may be getting more usable, but if it’s not getting more “tryable”, you’re not getting as much value out of the latest and greatest development as you should.

Regardless of whether a new feature is a premium add-on or available to everyone, you want it in as many people’s hands as possble. Here are a few things you can do from the product side to maximize your odds of success:

Be prepared to tinker with your rate card

If your product has a tiered subscription model, don’t assume that the Big New Thing you’ve got has to go in the highest tier. You can make it available to free- or entry-tier users for a trial period after they sign up before they have to pay. Or you can introduce a feature in one tier and move it up over time after it gains traction.

Separately, if the new thing you’ve built is viable a stand-alone offering then you should at least consider a model in which it’s not handcuffed to less popular features or components. Can your new feature be the tip of spear for a land-and-expand approach?

The earlier you start thinking about packaging and pricing the better, as you’ll probably need to get lots of approvals. Don’t let the potential complexity scare you away.

Make “buried” features discoverable by non-customers

There’s a creativity element to this as well as a technology element.

When I was on the product team at one startup, we had a great tool that showed advertisers what kinds of messages their audience would most likely respond to. The problem was that you had to be a subscribed customer to ever see it. It didn’t move the sales needle a bit.

We had to find other ways we could show the “hero” features to a larger audience. We experimented with a web browser plug-in, a micro-site allowing users to demo specific features, an inbox that allowed prospects to submit requests to us, to which we’d respond with a deliverable from the new tool, and other new means of delivery. (Company-sponsored hackathons can be a great way to accelerate the ideation and development process.)

Of course, it’s a lot easier to do all of this with a sound technology design. You’ll have much more freedom to experiment with new delivery methods if your product has a well-thought-out API layer. It lets you point any new website, app, or widget to the same web services you’ve already developed.

The more flexibility you give yourself from a business and technology standpoint, the better chance you’ll have of driving adoption of all the cool stuff you’re working on.

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